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Stupid computer…

Way back in like 1994 (oh my!) I went to work in an office environment where I used a computer every day. They were all very expensive desktop type machines whose cases were open more often than not so as to allow for near-constant hardware upgrades. The OS was Windows for Workgroups (what, like 3.1?) and it was just fine. Or seemed that way. I certainly didn’t know any better.

Then came Windows 95. I hated it. HATED it! Nothing worked right anymore, couldn’t find anything, it was slow and blue-screened all the time. Then they “fixed” it. Yeah, right. I remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal reviewing the Lion King game. The gist of it was they didn’t like it as the game was not intuitive to even get working. The reviewer opined that the game should be like a toaster – you push a button and it does what it’s supposed to! I coined the phrase “it ain’t a toaster!” in response to any computer related problem. These other things called Macintoshes showed up, created by a bunch of hippies. They were for the cool kids so of course I paid them no heed. Oops…

Over the years the rift between Apple OS’s and Windows has grown. I have been a Windows guy the whole time and have suffered through the various iterations and levels of abomination that Microsoft has thrown out (or up.) Most of them sucked. Badly. XP was the first OS that actually seemed to have promise; it was intuitive, didn’t fail (too often) and was fairly toaster-ish. Macs continued to be impenetrable to me but they had a reputation for not doing anything bad, not to mention that hackers and other bad actors left them alone.

Then a couple of things happened: Windows 7 and the iPhone. Windows 7 was (and is) to me the perfect Windows OS. It just worked. I knew where to find things, it didn’t break down (like ever) and it seemed the final (Laugh out LOUD!) solution to all things Windows. The appeal of a Mac of any sort faded quickly. My digital mind had found a home at long last. Of course the gods of Redmond knew this and evilly kept at their lustful quest to screw with stuff, all in the name of “improvement.” The iPhone though… well, damn what a device. I demurred for a long time, clinging to my flip phone in true Luddite fashion. When I was forced by my family to adopt iOS I (because I’m not actually an idiot) realized that this thing was truly the holy grail – it WAS a toaster! You push a button and it does what you want! Oh my! This didn’t diminish my enjoyment of my Windows 7 desktop at all. It was just different. I couldn’t do spreadsheets or real writing on it but the world got much bigger (or smaller) and easy to access anywhere. I was quite content with the two just as they were.

But NO! Ignoring the abomination that was Windows 8 (I mean really, WTF?!) here comes 10. And oh by the way support and by extension security for 7 was going to end. Bastards. So I made the shift (oh goody and thanks! for free) and entered into a nightmare of immense proportions. Windows 10 was and is a virus. It nearly destroyed my entire digital life and it took months to recover from. I wanted my 7 back! Um, screw you said the gods of Redmond. Adapt or get stuffed! I did adapt as I really had no choice. But my revulsion and hatred of all things Microsoft simmers still. As does my complete lack of understanding of Mac OS. So what to do? Suffer for the rest of my days? I guess so. I have learned to radically accept that Windows 10 is my new normal, at least until they screw with that, at which point I will either be dead or will be so fed up as to take a hammer to my beloved desktop.

God loves me and finds me amusing. But He has shown compassion. Grace has been granted in the form of a new thing, what might arguably be deigned as the perfect toaster. The iPad. You push a button and it does exactly what it’s supposed to. It’s sleek and beautifully designed. A near perfect piece of technology. I haven’t figured out how to fully adapt my digital life to just it and won’t until I’m forced to, but I know my digital future is no longer fraught with suffering. Until the gods of Cupertino become infected with whatever disease those in Redmond have. I just pray that this never happens, at least in my lifetime. I’m probably shouting into the wind of course, but that’s what I do.

When will the digital gods figure out that most people just want a damn toaster? A device that does what it’s supposed to, simply, efficiently and correctly? Enough with the bloody upgrades, so-called improvements and “advances.” Give us our toasters and go away.

Of course I have to close with hypocrisy. I suppose, in the best of all possible worlds, I would like to see some sort of merger or evolution of the iOS into a more useful desktop-like experience. At some point my iPad will become my default device. I will have a monitor that mirrors the iPad display, I will have my go-to apps (but NOT anything from damned and double-damned Microsoft) to do spreadsheets and writing. I will be competent with my backups and storage, leveraging the Cloud whatever that actually is. I will be portable. Maybe the iPad and phone will merge. I don’t know, but my hope is that the gods of Cupertino will realize that ease of use, transparency, reliability, security, and portability will be the things that really matter to people. Something tells me it is already mostly this way, I’m just slow. So I’m not a hypocrite, I’m just old and have experienced the entirety of computer evolution to date and judge the hell out of it, and just have to accept that the various digital gods don’t care what I think. Acceptance comes in the form of laughing at myself and finding a plate of cheese to go with my whine.

The problem with people

“Kay : A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet.”

The COVIDs, riots, brutalities of all sorts, climate change. What the F_CK is wrong with people?! Are human beings the most horrid species on this planet? Sure seems so. And yet there are offsets, those counterpoints to horror and tragedy, yet they too often go unnoticed or uncared about. And isn’t that even a more serious indictment of us? Is all we care about the morbid, the violent or the salacious? Most people would say no but their behavior tells the tale. I have held forth on the problem of chaos in the world from a Christian perspective. This post will be from a more secular point of view, although of course it will likely end up in the same place. We’ll see.

If I were an alien (no jokes now…) observing humanity from afar I would note the following: Humans are ruining their planet. Blatantly poisoning it. They are killing slowly but surely the thing that gives them life, turning a very nice neighborhood into a slum. They seem to be really good at killing things, whether other species or themselves. War is their highest achievement. Fear, as expressed through greed, selfishness, and a need for control has infected the entire species.

One would think that we ought to be evolving, moving beyond self, but the opposite seems to be true. It appears that we are devolving, becoming more childish rather than more adult. I can’t speak to what society is like in other countries but in America we are going backwards – the adolescentization of America. The evidence is everywhere and knows no socioeconomic or racial bounds.

We chase after material success – the house, the car, the devices. And we “pay” for it all not with actual money but credit. Debt is evidence of the undisciplined mind, the inability to defer gratification. And up up up it goes, trillions in debt, and not just individuals but our government. And that burden lies not on us but our great-grandchildren. Just kick it down the road seems to be the M.O. of Congress. And we buy this crap. We are slaves to our stuff and the lenders that support our acquisition of it.

Our government has devolved from the citizen-legislator to the career politician, whose sole aim is to get reelected and build a power base, to wield influence and enrich themselves. Harry Truman said that the only way to get rich in politics is to be a crook. The evidence is everywhere. Write some B.S. book and make millions. Speaking fees in the six figures. Pander to the lowest common denominator and instill fear. Get that message of fear and by extension division on the airwaves and cables, right into the homes of the peasantry where their security is most deeply rocked.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. Fake news is evolving into “deep fake”, a marvel of technology that makes the completely fabricated indistinguishable from the real. So-called news stories are not only biased, they are too often built on suspect sources. Read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear for a terrific exploration of how “facts” are created in order to sway opinion and decisions. Even worse, the truth is assaulted and often overrun by lies. A young man of color was murdered by a police officer of a different color. The evidence is incontrovertible. I saw this next crap coming though: the victim is now being painted as worthy of being murdered. He was on drugs, he did something bad. He was positive for the COVIDs. It’s a smear campaign of such laughable transparency and yet it is being swallowed by the ignorant and stupid.

Our vaunted educational system is collapsing under the tonnage of administrators and “programs” while the most important skills go malnourished. The fundamental ability to read, to write a coherent essay (no snickering), to think critically and be aware of the fallacious argument, all seem to be fading into the background so kiddies can be sensitive and fair. Wasn’t that what used to be taught in kindergarten?! Robert Fulghum’s book is more important than ever. God forbid we raise another generation that can actually think and question authority. Instead we teach to the test so more funding from the public trough flows our way. Gotta have those federal dollars! Our most important systems grow snouts.

The rise of the corporation and the subsequent consolidation via merger and leveraged buyout has created a ruling class; not the One Percent but the One Tenth of the One percent. They control everything it seems. The one thing they strive mightily to control and are making headway with is the human mind. Absent the ability to think, question and criticize, the echo chambers of the mind public and private are merging. Groupthink Orwell calls it. The media they control keeps us in a constant state of anxiety: “If it bleeds it leads.” Advertising sells us stuff we don’t need, we pay for it with money we don’t have, and all to impress people we don’t know or really like much. The endless drive to consume and gratify ourselves.

There is a systemic attack on the human being, or at least Americans. Government subsidizes certain crops that produce not food but chemicals that are turned into food. These foods make us sick so we go to the doctor and receive a prescription that ironically usually makes us sicker. More meds are prescribed. And the cost goes up and up across the board. So-called insurance goes down in quality and up in cost. And the lawyers suck at the trough coming and going.

Sigh. My angst may come across as deeply cynical. It is. But I don’t think it is unwarranted. We are killing ourselves slowly but surely, ceding a little liberty for a little security and the “freedom” to consume even more. We are enslaved to our stuff.

It’s disgusting. It is childish. It will be our ruin.

On the other hand…

There are so many myriad points of light, such goodness and beauty, kindness, generosity, selflessness, compassion. But these don’t generally make the news, or at least they don’t capture our attention for very long. Virtues don’t sell anything, don’t make us anxious and fearful. Quite the opposite.

So what, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war? Actually, yes. But not that way of course. That just plays into the hands of those who profit from chaos, fear, selfishness, childishness and anxiety. I pity those fools who thump their chests and brandish their guns; really? Are you truly prepared to shoot someone? I doubt it. You have no idea what that moment is like and what it will do to you. Neither do I but I have been told by those who know. No, the front lines of the war exist within each of us. And it is a war that can be won. We just have to be willing to fight it.

I have written a lot about mindfulness, even to the point of weaponizing it. And that approach is necessary, as each of us is at war with our own minds and the pattern of the world they conform to (alluding of course to Romans 12:2) Renew your mind by taking control of your attention. As Anthony DeMello says (paraphrasing) “Your “I” must become aware of your “me.” Wake up and become aware of those external things that are demanding your attention, and the internal patterns of interpretation and meaning that have formed.

Find things of beauty and virtue to attend to. I love Sylvie Guillem. Her Bolero has often brought me peace when my angst has swelled. Dance, music, art. Cooking, baking.

Creating, not destroying. Love, not self.

The Apostle Paul tells us that “…the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

These fruits are experienced and have their source in Christ. It’s that simple. When we die to ourselves and strive to no longer conform to the pattern of this world, to seek God’s will not in service to ourselves but in service to Him, we are paradoxically free. All of the self-orientation that produces the fruits mentioned above fades and the fruits of the spirit bloom. If only… if only.

The Rules

As a logical extension to my post on God allowing ___ to happen, or maybe an attempt to bring some depth to the subject, I suppose I should spend some time laying out my perspective on the rules. Said rules being the laws that the universe runs on, aka physics and most especially quantum mechanics. Even as I write the Q word I feel a bit of embarrassment; I am not a trained physicist – no PhD or any other credential to bring credibility to my thinking. I just read a lot and think about things the way I do. Apparently there is some basis in reality in my musings so what the heck, I’ll indulge myself and my “arrogance” and hope that someone more knowledgeable than I will refute it effectively and then finally I can drop the charade. Wow, no judgment there…

In the beginning… All the books on cosmology I have read point to the same beginning, aka The Big Bang. There are other models that come and go but that one has some staying power and I haven’t read anything that sufficiently casts doubt. Not yet anyway. So how did the Big Bang happen? What was there before and where was it? Nothing and nowhere. All we can point to (pun!) is a singularity, an infinitely dense “point”. There are two abstractions to begin with: infinite and point. So this “singularity” is by extension an abstraction. We don’t understand it because it is not understandable. What I personally think – and there is no math to support this (yet!) – is that the universe began as an idea and when God said “let there be light!” Oh boy was there! The way I see it is that this idea, this abstraction, was in fact a non-rotating singularity containing all the energy of an entire universe. But it was just “there” until energy was added (the words.) This follows the law of Inertia though, doesn’t it? The object at rest was at rest until it was acted upon by an outside force, again “the words.” Let there be light destabilized the singularity and it released all that energy.

This is where it gets tricky. In those initial moments – it’s hard to put them into terms of time – nothing existed as we now know it. There was just this mass of chaotic, overwhelming, indescribable energy. No atoms, no electrons, none of that. It was chaos in its infancy of finding order. Nothing but light. What’s interesting is the set of rules that governed the finding of order. The Newtonian rules (classical physics) had not yet settled in; no “large” structures existed yet. So what were the rules? This is where the quantum world begins, the blinking in and out of existence of the most elementary units of energy. And this is where, as I have read, science is deeply uncertain. I speculate that a “field” existed and still exists, that is the framework for order. It is generally referred to as the Zero Point Field, although some (many?) believe it is the “dark” (energy or matter.) In any case it is, I believe, the foundation for order. In the big bang the infinite became finite – it lost it’s “zero-ness” and became real.  And more and more real as the infinitesimally small coalesced into larger and larger expressions. Photons (light) collided, entangled, and generally morphed into more complex structures, i.e. quarks, electrons, protons and such. This implies that photons have mass, or at least the precursors to mass, which is a new point of inquiry for physicists. These in turn began to express behaviors which we call Laws – gravity took hold as mass accumulated. The strong and weak nuclear forces formed atoms and elements. Electromagnetism: the expression of behaviors of these elementary particles.

As a brief aside, Smoot reminds us that the parameters that allowed for the evolution of the universe were incredibly narrow, the margin for error and thus destruction, so infinitesimally small – essentially everything had to be perfect. People talk about the “Goldilocks Zone” the Earth inhabits, and it is also true for our universe – everything had to be just right.

This was all during the so-called inflationary period where the universe grew, expanded, faster than the speed of light (as we define it now.) This is also a rather sticky point as it violates Relativity. But the rules of relativity have not yet begun to express themselves – it is still a quantum universe mostly. What I find interesting is how these two perspectives separated and coexist still. Interesting mostly because this is an area of poor understanding on my part. More reading is necessary and any suggestions on the cosmology and physics of the early universe are welcome – I have read Smoot, Hawking, Einstein, Rovelli, Feynman, and in an odd tangent Susan Casey (The Wave) but obviously not nearly enough! And not for the last time my disclaimer as to my near-ignorance of, well, everything.

As events unfolded – the endless stream of probabilistic events (Rovelli) larger structures formed. David Bohm calls it “unfolding from the enfolded.” Gasses, dust, the byproducts of chaos and creation/destruction, drew together via gravity and cooling. Larger and larger they grew, becoming stars, black holes, galaxies, planets. All a result of a very basic set of rules. It’s beautiful and elegant.

Something I have found very interesting comes from Rovelli. On the one hand he suggests that there is no such thing as time, but on the other he is forced to take into account the law of entropy. It is entropy, or the immutable and constant movement of all energy to balance, that creates the distinction between the Newtonian and the Quantum. It is the arrow of time, writ hard into the rules. Heat only moves in one direction. Something cold does not get hotter on its own; it is a function of the heat moving towards the less-heat. It’s one way only. So from the very moment of creation everything pointed at cooling, and by cooling the other rules began to express themselves. The weirdness shows up as the two primary structures (Newtonian and Quantum) are now separate. The underlying quantum structure remains while the Newtonian is now expressed “on top” of it. At least that’s how I see it. So time is a real thing because of entropy as revealed through the behavior of the Newtonian construct, but not real because of the uncertainty of quantum behaviors.

Another really interesting things is how these rules are revealed to us. Mathematics are the language of God. The rules are revealed in relationships between things and they form patterns that we can, if we look hard enough, uncover and maybe understand. Geometry is especially useful. I am very fond of the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…) and how the spirals we see in nature follow this pattern. Or Phi and the Golden Ratio. And don’t forget fractals! I hated geometry class in high school, mostly because proofs are rigorous and I am lazy. I loved Trig in college but only because I could create beautiful curves by playing with the equations. But the truth is there, in the math, and you can’t argue math… it’s perfect.

I’m feeling especially stupid right now, and a little ashamed of my adjudged arrogance of even thinking I understand any of this. Am I making it up as I go along or am I actually on point? I may never know but my intuition and reading lean towards the latter. My wife tells me I have really good intuition, but I can’t do math with any significant capability. It’s just intuition.

Now that self-deprecation has been indulged in (again, and I really should stop that as it’s a distraction), back to my exploration of the Rules. They matter, as we humans, existing in this universe, are subject to them as are all things. And again, as I think about it, geometry presses its face against the glass of my imagination. The torus. The shape of consciousness and our interaction with life. Probabilities flow towards the center and the wave function collapses in the present, sending the “what ifs?” of the future permanently into the facts of the past. And those facts – our history – feeds back into both the present and the future, creating that wonderful echo chamber known as our self, the person we believe ourselves to be, the pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to the information we are attuned to. Now we’re getting into an area I actually really know something about – the pattern of the self. And it is governed by the same rules that all things follow.

This pattern of interpretation and meaning creates filters (for lack of a better word) that not only inform said interpretation and meaning but literally create a variety of probabilities. You go where you look, you experience what you pay attention to and by attending feed it and create a higher probability of experiencing it more. This is where pilot waves and the wave function are experienced, although no one but weirdos like me think of it this way.

These filters of interpretation and meaning create an emotional and intellectual myopia, a narrowing of perception that blinds us to possibilities. We become slaves to our limited thoughts and emotions and as time passes they atrophy, becoming dense and very difficult to alter. This is why so many are now turning towards psychedelics; these molecules put a hammer to the filters and open up new perceptions both internal and external. Although I have not experienced said hammer I can imagine – and I have a really good imagination.

Back to the atrophied filters. I see them as density gradients; the closer to the present moment information comes the more it is subject to our filters. We see what we believe and are less open to what actually may be. And once the wave function collapses and something has happened (become real) it becomes fixed in our memories – “it’s true because I experienced it.” These density gradients often distort our experience; we judge the information (interpretation and meaning again) and our emotions follow, and the pattern is reinforced. The filters grow stronger for good or for ill. Mark Twain puts it thus: “The problem isn’t with what we know for sure, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

So what to do with this? That’s really all that matters. Remember Stevie’s Axiom #1: It’s not so much what you know but what you do with what you know that matters. And an honest answer is “I don’t know. Yet…” I mean really, this perspective seems to me, intuitively, to lead to something worthwhile. I just haven’t figured out yet what it is. Ideas, comments, criticism and abuse are as always most welcome.

 

 

 

What if…

One of my students recently noted a “what if?” scenario, that fork in the road that created a mess that resonates to this day. And wouldn’t you know it, I found myself reading an article about my buddies at Goldman Sachs and their distressed mortgage business, and went down my own rabbit hole of “what if?”

Back in 2001 I was working for a company that was created for trading non-performing assets – delinquent mortgages or defaulted credit cards, and feeling very frustrated about how the boss wanted to go about things. He was a “flipper” or more nicely stated an arbitrageur, taking a thin margin between a seller and a buyer. I found this practice to be disingenuous at best and deeply dishonest at worst. What I envisioned and actually created was a true “principal buyer” structure where we would buy the assets and then manage them in a positive way. We had everything in place: a nationally licensed mortgage broker, a pricing algorithm (I wrote that one!), a servicing platform structure, even a bank! And I had found a collection agency to acquire – even setting an agreement in place to purchase it. Everything was in place except one thing. The money to actually do it. And I was lied to. Right to my face by the banker and the “finance guy.” My boss wanted to continue with business as usual, which to my mind was equally dishonest. Even after leaving that company, permanently tainted by the dishonesty, I tried again to find the money. But it was not to be.

So what if we had actually found the money? If all those pieces I had arranged had fallen into place? Well, I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I am now! I would likely be playing golf right now instead of musing on what if. Or having brunch at the club or going out on the boat. Lots of material things. Success. I remember when Bank of America bought Countrywide (knowing from the inside what a bad deal it was) and then all those loans went south. I thought “I could fix this for them! I know how!”

But God had another plan in mind, a different path. One that served Him and not me. The funny thing is that His plan serves me in a way that I could never have created for myself and the rewards are so far beyond the material.

The same holds true for the even bigger what if. What if my dad had not died when I was 14? I have played that one out over and over, or at least I used to. What if I had never started smoking, or at least seen early on how stupid it is?

No matter how you parse the what ifs you are left with what is. And if you can find value in what is then everything that created it, no matter how sorrowful or shameful, now has value because you do.

It is only when we serve something greater than ourselves do we begin to see our value, and by extension the value of what has contributed to our value. Perspective changes, condemnation, sorrow, regret, remorse, bitterness; they all fall away when seen through the lenses of service not to self but others.

My mom had a small poster on her wall, simply saying “But God…” Sit on that one a while and consider the what ifs, not in terms of loss but of gain, not of condemnation but hope. Find the true value of yourself in spite of or even in the full expression of your brokenness, and remember that when the course and outcome of your life is no longer your concern but His, amazing things will happen, experiences you could never have created by your own design.

Being “known”

Another high school classmate passed away, and the Facebook comments got me thinking… Uh oh.

I didn’t know Tom very well; he was just another of the hundreds of classmates I had that I ‘knew” but didn’t really know, much less be known by them. The remembrances were kind; “he was such a nice guy” etc. I wanted to ask a question there but of course it’s inappropriate. The question I wanted to ask was “How do you remember me?” I asked this of one very early Facebook friend, another who I knew, but didn’t. She replied “you were obnoxious.” I think she meant that in a good way but still.

It has been said – and rightly so – that we are a different person to everyone we meet. And how we see ourselves is probably very different than how we are seen and known even by those closest to us. I doubt that even they really “know” us; we are seen and known through the lenses of the other (refer to Perceptual Predictions for more on this) We know ourselves through the pattern of interpretation and meaning we have accumulated over our lifetimes; we are a product of the stories we tell ourselves and others, and too often those lack congruence.

I wondered, how well do I know those closest to me? My wife, my kids, those special few others? What are the stories they tell themselves about themselves? Are they even aware that they do it? I mentioned this to Minal and she got all excited. I say stuff and she gets excited. Sigh… So of course she said I have to write a book on this, a workbook of sorts to help us identify those internal dialogues and by doing so maybe separate the facts from the fictions, the truth from the propaganda. What I wanted was more than that: I wanted to not only deepen my understanding of those dear ones but also maybe to be better known, better understood by them.

I tried to do this deep dive with someone and I utterly failed. I have written about this experience more than I should I suppose, but it certainly has led to some deeper self-awareness and that’s always a good thing. Temet nosce and all that. I think that if we want to be able to really understand anyone else we have to start with being able to understand ourselves. Not superficially but in a confrontational way, to be deeply honest about the bullshit we spew into our own minds, much less that which we present as ourselves to the world.

This hit me in the face earlier today. A student was inquiring about the “Why would God allow _____ to Happen?” post where I discuss the quantum nature of creation and the rules that God put in place, and the consequences of us not following that first rule. What I could not find within myself was the ability to articulate it clearly. I thought I had but apparently not. I know that what I wrote is accurate, but as Einstein famously said “If you can’t explain it simply you do not understand it well enough.” Or something like that. And clearly, I couldn’t explain it any more clearly than I had so therefore I now judge myself as lacking understanding and thus spouting bullshit again, a trait I do not like and have tried very hard to not engage in. Now I don’t really know if I am bullshitting or if it’s just not a “normal” way of looking at reality, doesn’t fit the standard model of theology and whatnot. Most people don’t think about the weird stuff I do or read the books I do, so my deep self-doubt, self-loathing even, is now exposed. None of it matters (in my oh-so-correct judgment) so therefore it (and I) am useless. Yikes! That ain’t no good is it?

I have every intention of creating the workbook. Although every time I sit down and work on an outline I find myself seeing too many threads, too many rabbit holes to wander down. And I get a headache and thus don’t get anywhere with it. The therapist would raise her eyebrows and wonder why I get a headache when doing what seems to be valuable work…

And of course, as I write in seeming obscurity, I don’t want to ask this question, but I will anyway. Given the book concept I mentioned, how would you dear reader find it valuable? How should I help you connect the dots of the stories and discern between the fact and fiction, the truth and the propaganda?

In the end, one day I hope to leave as some sort of legacy a tool that helps people develop actual depth in their relationships, not only with others but with themselves. I won’t be able to conjure up a bullshit judgment on that one.

 

Perceptual Predictions

Michael (our brilliant Atlanta DBT resident) and I were talking the other day (as we do) and this idea took form – the concept of perceptual predictions or what I call The Amazon Effect. It is the dopamine pathway playing out in real time. First we click on Amazon to look for something we want or need. Oooh, shopping! The spurts of feel-good just by browsing stuff. Oooh, then we click on Add to Cart. Another bump. Next is the checkout and the anticipation begins. Now comes the confirmation e-mail, yet another dopamine hit. Then comes the e-mail that the package is on its way! More anticipation and feel-good. Delivery! Unboxing (it’s a thing now!) Look at all those delicious dopamine hits. It’s addictive…

On a deeper level we play this out all day long via the language that we use. Our choice of words is informed by our existing pattern of perception (the interpretation and meaning of information) and is at the same time reinforced by the same words. “I see what I believe”, yes? Going back to Anais Nin, “We do not see things as they are but as we are.” We create our own sense of reality, judging through our best understanding good and bad, right and wrong. And over time it develops into what my 7th grade gym coach called “constipation of the brain and diarrhea of the mouth.” Maybe he was just talking about me… probably.

When I was doing a session yesterday I observed that these video sessions are going to go on for another month and felt such anxiety in that moment. I keep defining video sessions and being in “isolation” as “suck” and so a month’s worth of suck got poured into that moment. The words I used to judge what is in turn created or perpetuated what is. And so it is for anything in our lives; the words we use to describe (judge) what is are both a product of our previous judgment and also reinforce/create future experience.

So if you “don’t like” your reality first you must define accurately what it actually is, being mindful of the words you are using. Are you being factually judgmental or emotionally judgmental? Lose the emotional descriptors – they aren’t helpful in creating a new perception. It’s still okay to “hate” whatever but stop with the saying of it – “embrace the suck” as one of my students put it. It’s only permanent if you say it is.

Isolation

My niece is a clinical psychologist and started doing telehealth sessions (video) last week. I have been doing it for a couple of weeks now and I am startled by how tiring it is, and she concurred, even after just half a day. A friend of mine – a local LPC – is going that route now too and is scrambling around trying to figure out what is HIPPA compliant and effective. I have been using ZOOM, which is both.

What I noticed though is how utterly exhausting it is to do most of these video sessions. In my Stage 3 DBT clinical manual Dialectical Patterns I discuss the “energy” of presence, so this has been quite a validation of that concept. In-person is so powerful, especially in a therapeutic relationship; it’s not just the nuance of body language but a palpable energy of just being with another person. My patients have noticed this also. We make the best of it because we have to. Mental health is affected by isolation; fears are amplified. The dreaded “what if’s?!” are stirred up and our attention goes so easily to the perceived disaster. It doesn’t help that the vacuum of leadership is filled by the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality of the media. Holy cow, this is better than the Gulf War! Literally everyone is glued to their newsfeeds, and lacking critical thinking skills (not taught anymore in schools) people fall for the dumbest stuff. And when combined with the echo chambers of our environment (see next post on language) our beliefs are reinforced, unfortunately without any facts – real facts- to back them up. Fertile soil for fear and anxiety.

I noticed this yesterday doing a session. I commented that it looks like we’re going to be doing this for the whole month of April and I noticed a tightening of my chest (anxiety). I was bringing a whole month of unpleasantness into the present moment. I hate doing video, hate being stuck at home, and hate the idea of having to do this for another month or more. Hate it hate it. And that feeds the anxiety. But I also noticed, in real time, that I was just doing a video session and it was no big deal. I can do this… Today. It’s just today and that’s all I have to deal with. And off went the anxiety.

Step back from whatever you’re doing and consider the energy levels around you:

Energy Level and why?
Mental
Physical
Emotional
Spiritual
Temporal
Intentional
Kinesthetic
Social
Attentional
Presence  

Look for creative ways to increase any one of them. One of my brilliant students calls it Emotional Alchemy. When your emotional tank (for example) is low you can turn towards another source of energy and literally transmute it. Folks who enjoy working out (perverse, I know) are aware of this.

For now, I intend to go vacuum the living room. Kinesthetic energy (energy of motion), Attentional energy, and even Intentional energy (meaning or purpose)

It’s so easy to judge what we haven’t accomplished, the “I’ve wasted another day” attitude. Make the bed, vacuum the rug, sit on the porch and just observe the birds. Don’t think, just watch. You have accomplished something! DO NOT pick up the remote or click on Facebook yet again. That stuff will always be there, ready to steal more of your life. Get busy living!

“Less”

There’s a great line – one word – spoken by Josh Brolin in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Shia LeBouf’s character asks (more or less) Brolin’s “how much is enough?”, and Brolin replies “More.” It’s said with such avarice, literally dripping from his lips. So representative of the failure of character: “There is one word that describes what is right about America; that word is greed. There is one word that describes what is wrong with America; that word is greed. There is one word that describes the difference; that word is character.” The failure of character. Why???

Because we go in the opposite direction of character. We gravitate towards more… And it is not just more material things. It is the incessant presence and by extension need for more thinking (the curse of over-thinking), more being right, more fear. I stole the idea for this post from Tim Ferriss, who had a TV show called Fear {less}. That’s what I’m interested in here: less.

Just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true. Our best thinking is a function of just that: our best thinking! The echo chamber of our mind… we lack new information but ironically our filters tend to keep out information that doesn’t align with our existing pattern of interpretation and meaning of information. And so we need, or indulge in, more. The demands of the childish emotional mind, that insidious little storyteller. To think less you have to think less. Or more accurately, think less about the stories that are being foisted upon you and think more about something else. Attentional control – so of course refer to the Weaponized Mindfulness posts. Know for a fact that your brain is telling you stories and they might not be right. They might be propaganda! Cognitive distortions based on your existing pattern and filters. Remember the Anais Nin quote: “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

The other day I gave myself a headache. I was thinking too much and I knew it. Minal came into my office and noticed my headache face and I explained what was going on. She told me to just stop thinking (I know how to of course. Well, mostly…) and I replied that I didn’t want to but as soon as my next patient arrived I would. My attention would (and did) go fully to her, and the headache went away. I stopped thinking about anything else. Be aware of your “need” to think and learn to allow your mind to sort things out on its own. This is the capability acquired in Stage 3 of the mindfulness program so maybe that’s an incentive to work it. Learn to quiet your mind and you can think slower, with improved clarity and accuracy. As they say on Kilimanjaro: “Pole Pole!” Slow slow. It’s how you get to the top.

An important factor in thinking less is to notice what exactly you think of. Is it useful? Helpful? Or is it more of the same garbage, not germane to anything of value in your life. Once you clear out the clutter of useless thoughts there is a new-found ability to not only have a quiet mind but also to be able to turn it towards something useful and helpful.

“Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?” A core question of DBT. Most people will either answer “Both!” or if they’re honest will answer “Right!” The need to be right, to have our best thinking validated and even praised, is so ingrained in us. And so divisive. “I’m RIGHT!” “You’re WRONG!” Our childish emotional minds spew endlessly such judgments and clings so tightly to them.

I would suggest that we aspire to being less wrong.

There are few absolutes in this universe, and absolutes by their nature are abstractions. They exist only mathematically or are a function of faith. Yet we, in our best thinking, are so utterly sure of them. Mark Twain said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” Nothing is certain until it actually happens, and how we perceive what happened is determined by our filters, our pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to the information. That should sound familiar as I said it earlier in this post. And it will bear repeating until we understand the truth of it. The Nin quote validates it.

When we stop needing to be right we are open to the possibilities of being less wrong, and the abdication of the need to be right. The irony is that when you are open to the possibility of being wrong you increase the likelihood that you’ll learn something and be less wrong. **So I’m being redundant and inelegant. Please help**

One of the reasons we cling so tightly to the need to be right is fear. “What if I’m wrong?!” What if what if what if… The storyteller hard at work, isn’t it? Without going into the roots of fear (an opposite of love) how about just offer the antidote? And that is (drum roll!) Curiosity. The natural opposite to the fearful “what if?!” becomes its opposite – “what if?” and then “We’ll see!” It opens us up to possibilities, perhaps that we have never considered in our best thinking.

One other less that occurs to me is flaw less, to stop finding fault in ourselves or others. Stop blaming, start exploring. In Radically Open DBT we call this self enquiry, checking both the facts of information but of our interpretation and meaning of that information – our emotional response patterns. If we are going on a fault-finding trip the best place to start, in fact the only place to start, is within ourselves. And it is not an emotional blaming but just looking at ourselves as we are, with curiosity and love, in order to become less. Less judgmental, less reactive, less emotionally enslaved. In any conflict we may (probably do) have some responsibility in our own words or actions. Examine them! Not to find fault but facts. How did I contribute to this mess?

The key to less is of course the ability to control your own mind, to choose to think less, to be willing to be less wrong, to be vulnerable enough (ironically) to fear less, and look for flaws less. Radically accept the what is and consider your emotional response to the information, how you interpret and give meaning to it. Be willing to be less.

How it should have been

This is written directly to my friend. As it may or may not apply to you, dear reader, is up to you.

Recently we visited mom in her new home. It was surprisingly nice and she was so thrilled to see us. She’s pretty frail but at 95 I was surprised how hale she is. Hauls butt around with “Johnny Walker.” Her small apartment is packed with over-sized furniture, reflective of her over-sized life; she is “The Jane” after all.

Of course there are hundreds of pictures, all of which I’ve seen many times, but this time I saw them through a different lens, one of what should have been. Pictures of a smiling happy family, mom all done up and stylish, dad dashing and the picture of the provider, kids dressed smartly and beaming. As it should be. At the same time I was aware of the undercurrents that couldn’t be seen, and all of a sudden I saw you and your family. Just the same, happy, smiling, just so. And the same undercurrents unseen, the ones that corrupt day by day, year by year, the image of what should be. It was what we were raised to believe in, the image of rightness, never tinged by sorrow, by pain.

We are so similar in this. Here is where I lived until I was 1264th st

And here is where I always thought I would live, in a proper fashion:

Brookbank

You and I would live here, raise our perfect happy family here and be just so. As we were raised but without the hell of alcohol.

But life had other plans… My dad died when I was fourteen and the wave function of my path collapsed. Your dad died the year before I think. I remember that night. J.B. showed up drunk as a skunk, happy as hell  – although your experience of him was quite different. Dad got him dried off and they took him downtown to the Salvation Army to dry out and then go to rehab. And as they drove off they saw in the rear-view mirror J.B. walking off into the night. The end.

I saw Scott’s memorial slideshow and I saw the same pictures my mom has. Just. The. Same! And I felt such sorrow. You worked so hard to follow the pattern, to make your life and family as it was supposed to have been, and it all fell apart. Poisoned again by alcohol. How could it happen?! It’s just not fair!

Then I wondered… What part did you play in the disintegration of your just-so life? How did the brokenness that was created in childhood inform the corruption of what should have been? I have been through this exercise myself and have found many threads of infection and how they metastasized. Have you done the same? If how you have treated me is any indication then the conclusions are pretty obvious. I can’t help but wonder, is this your true nature? I don’t think so. I think you have wandered so far away from it, drawn by the false construct of just-so.

I love the movie Mary Poppins. Watching reminded me of something in my own true nature: the scene with the bird woman and the song Feed the Birds resonates so strongly within me. It did when I was seven and it still does. My true nature: caring, simple, kind-hearted. How we have both complicated everything by our brokenness, it’s just sad. And I see how that pervasive sadness helps make me who I am. I do not resent it but embrace it.

What I wish for you is the same discovery of perspective of what-is versus just-so and your role in the wreckage of it. Own who you are and have been and think, THINK, about who you wish to become, pointing at finding and embracing your true nature. Maybe I am just projecting, but I see sensitivity and kindness in you. Now, this is so diametrically opposed to how you have treated me but I refuse to believe it. I want to think the best of you even when the evidence shows otherwise. It is my nature… I guess that my great frustration is not knowing if I’m right about you. My intuition tells me one thing but your behavior tells another. And my need to know will not, it seems, be fulfilled.

Mourn the Just-so but don’t dwell on it. It’s gone. Honor it by examining how it has made you who you are and if there are aspects you don’t like (“I’m a shitty friend”) then do better. Take risks, push the envelope, be vulnerable. Use that fine mind God gave you and take a long look at yourself. I hope you see what I do…

Xxoo

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